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Legal Support Market Update March 2024

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Legal Support Market Update March 2024

​A review of 2023

In 2023, the legal support recruitment landscape exhibited a plateau in most practice areas, reflecting cautiousness in response to economic indicators, a downturn in the property market, with hints of the onset of a recession. Most firms adopted a conservative approach by refraining from replacing support staff upon resignation. Instead, they redistributed workloads among existing administrative team members and, where needed, junior lawyers. At the end of the year, a resurgence in confidence emerged, influenced by the upcoming election and the strengthening of the overseas economy.

The latter half of the year witnessed a resurgence in activity within litigation teams, particularly in family, RMA, civil and commercial litigation areas. Legal support candidates adept in understanding court procedures, filing deadlines and capable of dealing with large sets of documents in preparation for a hearing were sought after. Salaries for litigation and corporate legal secretaries experienced a steady increase, in recognition of the heightened workload and sometimes extended hours in these areas.

Corporate/M&A legal secretaries remained in steady demand for those that had experience with company secretarial and governance experience to deal with large listed companies and administration required around company structuring matters.

The new Government and expected reforms have resulted in policy change work for RMA teams and legal secretaries possessing a blend of property and litigation expertise were particularly sought after in this area.

A new year, a new cadence

With summer kicking off the start of 2024, came a resurgence in the property sector through increased activity in residential property transactions and refinancing transactions, prompting general practices and suburban firms to resource up their property teams or start to replace staff in these areas which they hadn't in 2023. We have seen an increased demand in support roles for commercial property teams as developers are starting to resume halted projects and developments, therefore legal secretaries with commercial property and private client experience have been in demand in the first quarter of 2024.

The introduction of the new Trust Act 2019 has led to increased trust administration requirements and costs for those that have trusts, which has resulted in more trusts being dissolved (with clients looking at other asset protection options) and the role of legal support staff in this space shifting more towards trust administration work. We expect legal secretaries and legal executives specialising in elder law and estate administration to remain in strong demand, given New Zealand's aging population.

Salaries within the administrative teams have been on an upward trajectory, now commonly commanding salaries upwards of $80,000 for 4+ years of experience. With top-tier firms currently in review season, it will be interesting to see how their bandings will lead to adjustments in the market which we expect to occur in line with inflationary changes.

There has been a trend of adoption of new practice management systems within many firms which has resulted in teething issues for administrative teams. Training has been needed as a result. These systems are however allowing for greater efficiency and enabling administrative teams to focus on higher-priority tasks such as document management, precedent management and engaging in business development activities. This shift has opened avenues for administrative professionals to contribute meaningfully to the firm's strategic objectives, beyond traditional billing and dictation responsibilities.

The overall market sentiment remains optimistic in the legal support sector this year and the expert legal recruiters at CoLegal are here to assist in your recruitment needs. Give Simone a call on 0272245228.